The best of times, the wurst of times

I took the plunge last week. I’ve been talking about it for fuuuuuuuucking ages, but I’d not actually done a lot about it (apart from quitting my job and flat). I actually moved to Berlin.

My parents drove me to the airport for my 5am flight (shout out to middle-class privilege). The sky over Cambridgeshire and Essex was pitch black and it felt like one of those early starts before you go on holiday as a kid - the car full of bags and the radio off until everyone is a bit more awake. My folks even paid the £3 for the drop off area closest to the airport. We hugged, said goodbye and then I walked in and everything hit me. There was no return ticket in my wallet. This is the last time I’m going to see the faintly racist airport border rhetoric for a while.

I was tired - I hadn’t slept the night before, I had been moving out of my old flat and cleaning all day. I landed in Schonefeld and set off for town to meet Jenny who, despite having done the coach from London (19hrs) had had a good 7hrs of sleep.

I’m now on day eleven here, my German speaking is less embarrassing (but still terrible). We’ve found a nice, but unfurnished, flat. I’m still looking for a job (hints, tips, leads and shameless nepotism readily accepted).

What I’m loving most about this city is something quite psychogeographical. The flats are blocks and so not every window is on a road. The streets are wide enough for pedestrians, bike lanes, bus lanes, tram lanes and cars. The bars are emptier and more relaxed. My breakfast this morning involved five kinds of pig product.

Sometimes the feeling of living in London is one of pig-headed stubbornness. I don’t feel like I’m fighting the city for survival here.

Anyway. It is still often scary, my German is patchy, German bureaucracy is just impressively monolithic and resistant to the internet (totally going to have a go at that) and sometimes you just remember that ‘oh shit, I’m not at home anymore’. But that’s actually pretty exciting.

I may be in Germany but I’m still on the internet. @blangry

Digital Economy

Much will likely be said of the Labour policy on digital trailed in the Graun today (at least within circles of people who talk about digital policy).

I’ve been watching the thought process on this for a while and I have a few points (you probably need to read the article first).

The necessary leadership is both political and organisational, coming from a growing wave of agile and digitally savvy councillors working with local digital teams that embrace the potential of digital to transform public services and so produce and act on digital strategies such as those developed in Camden.

This leadership will be held accountable by local equivalents of the Public Accounts Committee.

The internet equivalent of dad-dancing. Agile and digital savvy councillors? Yes, there are some and they are amazing, and holding Camden up as the example of ‘good’ is great, but what about every other council that can’t procure to save its life? Where is the mandate?

Also: “local equivalents of the Public Accounts Committee [emphasis added]” - locally run? Staffed with people from the same council? That doesn’t sound like accountability. It sounds like marking your own homework.

By using open standards and reusable components authorities in different areas can focus on common challenges (for example planning in one area, parking in another) and share the results and improved standards and components for the common good.

Cool story. Mandate? Or just bung it in github and hope it gets used.

Everyone should feel that they can contribute and be listened to, whether they are part of the mixed economy that delivers public services or a layperson keen and willing to contribute time and expertise.

This is a weird bit, because I think it is asking for Wiki edits/open source project commits from citizens rather than structured user research to deal with the fact that most citizens don’t give a shit and just want it to work.

Services such as Feed Finder which was developed by a university and a local community to help women find safe places to breast feed, or Casserole Club, which was jointly developed by the private and public sector to help people share food with those in need.

These products are [legit] good, but you’re then playing a game of brand recognition for public services. Also, you end up with many versions of the same products made by different councils with different private companies.

What this all introduces is the idea of the postcode lottery into digital provision, access to digital literacy services and the service level you receive from your local authority.

Also missing is any mention of healthcare and digital reform in the NHS, which is funny considering how political and essential that is.

The review has not yet reached its conclusion, and there is much more detail to be established both in these areas as well as other areas such as how to restore trust in open, shared and personal data; or how to build the digital civil service.

Let’s see how this pans out, it would be a shame if such an opportunity for proper policy debate was wasted, but at least this stuff is drawn from the recent debates on localgov.

Now have a cute animal.

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Talk: @blangry

thecoldclearelsewhere:

The Cold Clear Elsewhere (Final Preview)

So! This is the actual preview!

Alex and I decided we wanted to get a similar feel to the footage in the previous video - those old home videos, as if someone (a friend, family) was filming Grace in the days before she left for the UK. So, we made the footage black and white, sped it up a bit to give it that kind of jumpy feel of old films and got a lot (A LOT) of footage of me being silly and just jabbering away to camera. 

Obviously using the same music and newspaper article from the other video (though I cut it down slightly).

We’re quite happy with how it’s turned out. 

Loads of fun to work on, going around getting the shots. The show is looking grand too! Put it on your Edinburgh to-do lists.

Auf wiedersehen

I’m going to Berlin. Soon-ish.

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I’ve lived in London for 22 years (with 5 years in Cambridge as a teenager). I had my first kiss in Barnet, my first gig in Brixton, graduated in New Cross, had no money in Peckham, watched the riots from my roof in Acton and worked in the Palace of Westminster. I’ve sung with a chorus of drunks on the night bus, gone to balloon parties on the tube, watched the dawn rise over the river, cycled over the marshes in the pouring rain.

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I love this city, but sometimes….

"When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life" is bullshit. I’m tired of rents for a room that I can touch all four walls with all four limbs costing the same as a three bedroom house rent elsewhere. I’m tired of £5 a pint. I’m tired of everywhere being an hour away. Of no cycling provision to speak of.

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I’m tired of everyone thinking that the survival badge of London is worth it in all circumstances. London is great, but it’s frustrating living here.

So I’m going to try something new. I’m moving to Berlin this summer. I’ve been going over a lot recently and it just feels a bit more exciting. And scary, my German is Monty Python-esque. They don’t really do real ale.

But, it is such a fantastic adventure.

I’ll be around for a few more months, but if you know of a sublet in Berlin (Kreuzberg/Freidrichshain/Neuköln would be lovely) or if you’ve seen a job, do let me know.

There’ll be a leaving party too. See you there.

@blangry

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One blog to rule them all… please?

  1. https://dwpdigital.blog.gov.uk/
  2. https://governmenttechnology.blog.gov.uk/
  3. https://gdssocialmedia.blog.gov.uk/
  4. https://gds.blog.gov.uk/
  5. https://designnotes.blog.gov.uk/
  6. https://studentfinancedigital.blog.gov.uk/
  7. https://eadigital.blog.gov.uk/
  8. https://digitaltransformation.blog.gov.uk/
  9. https://gdsdata.blog.gov.uk/
  10. https://cabinetofficetechnology.blog.gov.uk/
  11. https://assisteddigital.blog.gov.uk/
  12. https://transition.blog.gov.uk/
  13. https://gdstechnology.blog.gov.uk/
  14. https://hmrctransition.blog.gov.uk/
  15. https://insidegovuk.blog.gov.uk/
  16. https://hmrcdigital.blog.gov.uk/

That’s a lot of blogs to cover government digital.

Some of the post rates on these are low (as in, a month between posts). I don’t use a feed reader. I want to check one address and see everything about transition, process, technology, central GDS, departmental. I read blogs with more than 4 updates a day, I could handle the same from government.

This could just be me.

Parliament’s Digital Review

After a month or so of wrangling over the words, the report by MySociety into Parliament’s digital services has been published.

Among the most interesting quotes:

"At this point it is appropriate to pause and highlight an observation that is at the core of this report: ­ six computer programmers working on online services is nothing like enough for the needs of an institution like Parliament. Without an increase in the number of computer programmers and designers working full time on Parliament’s online services, it is inevitable that the current site will slip ever further behind what modern users consider to be normal.

We would also note that with so few computer programmers assigned to online projects it is remarkable, and indeed laudable, that the Parliamentary website functions as it does. WIS and PICT staff deserve praise simply for keeping the website online and the core data mostly up to date.”

Yup. I can’t agree with this heartily enough.

Parliament should establish a Digital Office, merging together both web and ICT into a new, unified body… The mission of the Digital Office should be to provide excellent digital services that meet user needs. This user needs focus is one of the key differences between the web era of the last decade and the ICT era of the decades before…

We recommend that the Head of Digital role is embodied in a single person, rather than a team or a board, because excellent, user­-focused digital projects are extraordinarily difficult to deliver at the best of times, and even harder to deliver in an environment as complex as Parliament. Because such projects are tough to deliver, anything that prevents clear decision­making substantially increases the chance that projects will never see the light of day, or that they will be of unacceptably poor quality when they do.

Does Mike Bracken need a new job?

They make a list of all of the things that the new post will need in terms of abilities and experience and then add

If the Head lacks more than a handful of these skills, there is a manifest danger of uneven leadership. For example, someone capable of delivering an excellent website but incapable of communicating to colleagues internally would cause nearly as many problems as they might solve.

Hiring for such a role will be a challenge. However, London is one of the few global cities in which such candidates doubtless already reside, so the recruiting will be challenging, rather than impossible.

This is important: if the job description gets watered down then the person won’t be able to do what is needed.

This next paragraph is a forecast that is entirely accurate:

As many readers will doubtless be aware, current structures have contributed to a planning impasse: Parliament is currently lacking an agreed digital strategy due to a breakdown in negotiations between different internal bodies on the web policy board. The Houses have lacked an agreed digital plan for a considerable period because the board that is supposed to agree such decisions has been unable to agree, and there is nobody in a formal or informal position to break the deadlock.

Parliament cannot continue for long without a clear digital plan in place. Our recommendations above offer a way of getting such a plan delivered.

With a single, appropriately skilled Head of Digital in charge of the services currently provided by both PICT [Parliamentary ICT] and WIS [The Web and Intranet Service], we believe that a plan could be agreed quickly.

Silverlight Shout-Out:

Currently most users of Parliamentlive.tv are asked to install outdated technologies onto their computers in order to watch the video streams. This is a barrier to entry, because users should not, in 2014, have to install any new technologies to watch a video. Outdated technologies will also tend to be poorer quality user experiences in various ways.

Oh yeah. (although you can kind of rig up a solution with VLC and the WMV stream and avoid Silverlight, but it takes ages)

So, this report is excellent. It diagnoses all the right issues and suggests a moderate, sensible way forward that is sensitive to Parliament’s structure (two and a half separate civil services operating in one building).

Here is one paragraph from the response jointly agreed between the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Parliaments (the two most senior Parliamentary Servants).

It is important to emphasise what the report is not. It does not attempt to be a comprehensive review of everything that PICT and WIS do. It pays relatively little attention to the vitally important business of providing network and technology support to those on the Estate and further afield, which is a key part of our business. We do not agree with everything in the report. In our view, it does not adequately acknowledge the amazing work and commitment of colleagues in both PICT and WIS. But it does confirm one important reality: that Parliament is not properly organised to be the major digital player that we must be if we are to keep up with the game, let alone get ahead of it.

This is a bit mixed. I think I quoted above that they certainly do acknowledge the work of PICT and WIS.

In order to achieve this, the Management Boards have agreed to implement two key recommendations made by mySociety:
  1. to establish a new Digital Office bringing together the management of all online and ICT services into a single organisation; and
  2. to appoint a Head of Digital to run that organisation, publicly accountable for delivering measurably rising levels of satisfaction with Parliament’s digital services from Members, staff and the public.

Cool. Let’s hope that this means what the report argues:

The reason why both Houses should abrogate direct, day to day control is twofold. The first reason is that this will put to bed any notion that the digital team will be commandeered or run by one house or another. The second and much more important reason for relinquishing direct power over day to day prioritisation is that excellence in digital services always requires the ability to say ‘no’. Digital services that truly meet users’ needs require design discipline that is as much about what is left out as about what is included. Without the power to say ‘no’, Parliament’s online services will not improve at the dramatic rate which is required to keep pace with user expectations.

If they get this right, then Parliament can really get somewhere and stop being left in the dust by the rest of the public sector.

The worry is that the process of recruitment takes two years, the restructuring of the teams takes an additional one and that things don’t get delivered in the meantime. There will be a consultation with the public as well as members and staff (which is a genuinely fantastic move forward in terms of public interactions for the Houses) and I’d encourage everyone to read the report and comment.

Digital Electioneering

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I’m a lefty. Unless you’re reading this at some point where I’m required to be politically neutral, in which case I’m not. But seriously, I’ve been on some lovely protests, I’ve paid thousands of pounds at university to study Marx until I can basically smell alienated labour & panoptic power from 300 metres (not hard, it’s everywhere), I’ve had breaking-up level arguments with partners over imperialism and neocolonialism. I have my credentials, I’m not a party member (nor have I ever been a member of /any/ party), and I’m certainly not the most lefty person ever, but I can sing enough of the songs.

I also really like doing web stuff. I’ve found a career where I can do social science, geekery and politics at an exciting time where doing digital for government doesn’t mean outsourcing to a faceless service provider in a shit suit.

Having said all of this, I like keeping politics out of the day job. I work with civil servants who are professional enough to execute policy beyond their own beliefs, and for the most part, I follow this mantra as well.

So, there’s this headline in ComputerWeekly: “GDS becomes political as Labour launches digital government review" and it is just the latest in a long line of things to start coming out of the party on the subject.

I have a few problems with the framing of the questions on this bit of policy creation.

Last week, I went to the launch of the Labour Digital network [visit the site to go back to the internet of 2005]. It was a challenging event that I’m splitting down to a binary:

Good:

  • There was an event. Good start.
  • Martha Lane Fox spoke (first time I’ve seen her IRL)

Bad

  • Not a single person from Labour that I spoke to demonstrated any experience of ‘Government Digital’ (either as a civil servant, working on projects in the private sector, or even having read the Service Design Manual or looked at an exemplar service).
  • I spoke to people who didn’t know what agile development is.
  • I spoke to people who wanted to make government information “more like Buzzfeed”. Did users ask for that? “It would just look better”. SMDH.
  • One guy swore blind that government stuff “should work on mobile” and refused to believe me when I told him it already does.
  • Several people were patronising or walked off mid conversation when they saw someone more important than three people who actually work in the sector.

None of these are fatal flaws, but seeing what has come out of Labour for the last few months, it adds to a perception (that I actively don’t want to have) that Labour don’t have a clue on this.

Introducing yourself as having worked in IBM for most of your life, even if you make the “no one gets fired for using IBM” joke, as the compere did, is  a worry. That is like turning up to a meeting on having a good corporate song and saying you’re from G4S.

What’s happened in the last few years needs to be beyond becoming a political football. Government digital has really benefited from the approach seen in GDS, I don’t think that this is the big problem facing us now.Here is what Labour are proposing for their digital review:

Digital government has the power to transform the relationship between the citizen and the state. But that is not what is happening now.

[Citation Needed]

Labour’s Digital Government Review will set out clear and realistic goals for a digital agenda that will improve services and empower citizens while being efficient and cost.

Empowering citizens? Look at the Speakers Commission on Digital Democracy, the Good Law project, Open Policy Making etc. etc. This just seems to be nice words with no actual idea of what is being suggested or critiqued, just a sort of ‘democracy, YAY’ thing. Also, Government Digital is (now) pretty cost efficient. G-Cloud saving 96% on hosting contracts, GDS building things in house saving cash… Please identify a specific inefficiency.

The Review will recognise the good work of the Government Digital Service where it is successful, and suggest changes of direction where it is not.

Cool, I guess?

We will identify an advisory board of the willing and able - well known and experienced industry insiders and stakeholders to review evidence and proposals around two workstreams:

Powering digital government - This will look at how to drive positive, progressive digital change through local and national government, including organisational, skills and technology/infrastructure issues.

Putting citizens in control - How to overturn the power relationship between government and citizens.

Well known and experienced industry leaders? If they’re from Atos, Capita and IBM then you can really fuck off.

Except that the article with Chi says:

Labour is also critical of GDS’s apparent hostility to large IT suppliers. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has openly attacked the “oligopoly” of big IT companies, and GDS has a remit to open up the government IT market to SMEs, with a target to put 50% of all IT contracts through SME suppliers.

Onwurah said that it is an “exaggeration” to say that big IT suppliers are “the bogeymen of IT”. While Labour supports competition and creating opportunities for SMEs, she said that large suppliers “shouldn’t be locked out, but neither should they be locked in”.

She mentioned Fujitsu and HP - two suppliers who have faced particular criticism for their government IT work in the past - as likely contributors to the review. She was keen to point out that suppliers will play no role on the advisory board for the review, but they will be encouraged to make submissions as part of a general call for evidence.

That whole thing is not hopeful. Big suppliers are, often, worse than small ones both in terms of cost and what gets delivered. Now of course, she seems to be saying specifically that they won’t be on the panel, and Microsoft contributed to the Open Standards debate on OOXML the other week without the world imploding. But, you know, why are big companies going to behave better this time?

Britain (including the bits that aren’t London) has a bloody amazing tech sector. Labour need to come and do their Thick of It ‘week at the coalface with the drones’ and actually see how this works rather than imagining that something is wrong just because the Tories did it.

There are tons of things wrong with digital in the UK. Local Government. NHS stuff is still a problem. Rural broadband. Assisted digital. Parliament’s data. These are still really broken and need fixing more than re-engineering central government, which is actually ticking along pretty well, all things considered.

It would be exceptionally disappointing to see Labour try to turn GDS into a political issue. Good design for users is good. Let’s not take things back to 2007.

All opinions can be forwarded to @blangry on twitter.

How to “choose” a GP

The NHS constitution says:

You have the right to choose your GP practice, and to be accepted by that practice unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse, in which case you will be informed of those reasons

You can choose which GP surgery you’d like to register with. That GP surgery must accept you unless there are good reasons for not doing so, for example, you live outside the boundaries that it has agreed with the locla [sic] commissioner (NHS England), or because it has no spaces left. Whatever the reason, the surgery must tell you why. If you can’t register with your preferred GP surgery, the NHS will help you find another one.

(emphasis mine) - source

I moved recently and I need a new GP. I’m type 1 diabetic and really, really, really need a competent doctor. I use GP care services regularly, I have had absoultely terrible care experiences with GPs who have been (charitably) uninterested or (uncharitably) incompetent. I’ve also had one or two doctors who have revolutionised my care and made my life hugely better by being engaged and well read.

So I definitely need a doctor. Here are my local options according to NHS Choices. The first four surgeries score 2* or fewer and the first five have warnings about low satisfaction scores from patient feedback as well as an incomplete range of online services (srsly, its 2014, I can’t book online/sort out a prescription?).

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I’d like to go to the one with the decent rating. But as the NHS said above, I can be rejected for not living in the catchment area. This is the catchment area. I don’t live in it.

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I don’t mind walking to my surgery. I just want decent care. This isn’t like state schools where there is an argument for sending kids of all abilities to bootstrap failing schools. This is a wonky market meaning that I have an absolute Hobson’s choice. It means that anyone in my area is consigned to bad care (as reported by other patients).

I would genuinely love some advice over what to do. Tweet me: @blangry

On being ill

This year marks my tenth with type one diabetes. Today marks the gazillionth time that the fact of my illness has been a tiring and dispiriting companion (mix up at the hospital, another 2 month delay). If depression can be characterised as a black dog, constantly trailing in the mist, then diabetes is like an incontinent poodle: always after attention and creating a mess for you to mop up.

I’ve blogged before about the diabetes meter stuff, so I won’t go over quite that again. I actually want to think about what an ideal health service for a type 1 diabetic would look like.

I think we’ve ossified our view of the health service. We talk about the NHS as if it’s constitution under Bevan was the best way you could serve a people. I’m certainly not comfortable with market reform in the sense of competition for services, but I am comfortable with the idea of designing health services with the patient at the heart of the interaction, as service user rather than an audience for the greatness of the specialist.

So, key points:

Take any and all diabetes care away from GPs. They are just terrible. They exist to refer you to someone who knows something. I’ve had GPs so disinterested in my prescriptions that I’ve been prescribed lethally (10x) high dosages of medications (props to the pharmacist who picked up on that one). I’ve had it take three years and four GPs to diagnose conditions so common that they practically have a Wikipedia page with famous sufferers. I have had one GP in the last ten years of moving between about 12 practices (because living in London as a young person makes the very concept of continuity of care absolutely laughable), who knew anything relatively modern about diabetes. Why should I trust them with my front-line care?

Drop ins with specialists (who give a shit). Not that clinic is any better. I don’t talk to anyone about my diabetes for two years at a time (i.e. the rough schedule between major fuck ups). I haven’t seen a dietician in three years. My specialist asks me “how are you? any erectile dysfunction? can you feel your toes?” and has done every six months for ten years. I want to know what’s happening. I want to be involved in better care. I don’t mind coming in for things, but I need more involved, conversational, brainy care.

Prescriptions. I should have a card which I can take to a pharmacist and get insulin/test strips/needles/anything on my repeat prescription. This is 2014 and I still have to have three interactions in order to get hold of insulin. I imagine the counter argument for this is that a GP should be reviewing my meds regularly. 1) See above 2) That would still be possible, if the system that informed the card were set up right and integrated into the right things (e.g. an expiry for prescriptions with a RAG rating so that a pharmacist could dispense in emergency, but insist you see a doctor as well ASAP).

Fund Continuous Glucose Monitoring [CGM] for everyone. Right, pumps are lovely, but they’re not useful for everyone. Accurate delivery of insulin is possible with pens. But good data from CGM (giving you readings every 30s or so) allows you to make better decisions. I think that it is odd that NICE haven’t put more emphasis on this as it is obviously of benefit, and seeing as test strips for fingerprick testing are already pricey, why not just spend a little bit more and get a complete solution.

Diabetes accounts for such a significant chunk of the NHS budget (which is a bit of a red herring as it also includes spend on the metformin guzzlers over in the type 2 camp) but really, we’re among the most expensive, most frequent flying groups in the NHS. I think, frankly, we’re a core group* of users that services should be built around us a bit.

Service design

There are loads of us. The current system has to be actively worked against to achieve favourable outcomes. This disadvantages people who can’t talk back to incompetent or ignorant health care professionals. It means that having a disease that already has a high co-morbidity with depression, that is already hard to organise, has an extra layer of administration superimposed. This can’t be right, this isn’t the right way round. This is a service paid for by taxation, this is a service for all citizens. It should be easy. It should be uncomplicated. It should be responsive and sensitive to the level of care you need and the level of control over your own health that you are willing to take.

It often feels with the NHS that there is a difficulty of making a supertanker complete a jet-ski course. That it is too large, too inflexible and has too much inertia to ever get it right, that doctors will never change and that being a patient is a position in a web of pedagogical power. Government used to feel like that too. Things can get better, if only there were the political will or the campaigning direction from charities who should be representing us visibly and audibly to have the imagination to change the rules.

@blangry

*I wouldn’t know. I hate hanging out with other diabetics. So much moaning.

Parliamentary data - let’s bust this racket

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Yesterday I went along to my old stomping grounds in Parliament to listen to developers, programme managers and Parliamentary servants have a discussion about the proposed data.parliament platform for data that is due to launch this year after having spent three or so years in the pipeline.

This has come out of a number of Rewired State hack weekends where the long suffering Web and Intranet team in the Commons library has had to provide piecemeal data for developers to use. The data has been a bit patchy, inconsistent between the Houses, sometimes supplied on CD and always presented with caveats and apologies.

What do you need?

I’m biased. I do user research for a living. But the reason that this stage of web development can even earn me a living in a small web firm is that it is absolutely vital to online projects. Mark O’Neill from GDS said at an AgileTea over the summer [and due to my memory, I am paraphrasing slightly] that any public sector web project over £10k should have a discovery phase to avoid wasting money further down the line.

The service design manual says at the top of its entry on discovery phases that “Before you start building a service you need to build up a picture of what the context for that service is. That means lots of user research, close analysis of policies, laws and business needs, and workshops and interviews which establish the criteria for success of your service”. Doesn’t that sound sensible? I mean, why not work out what people need, make a list, prioritise the most important, build it and then test with users that this is working? Well, that is what an agile team should do. This is not what has happened in this case.

The Parliamentary data platform project has been kicking around for about three years. In this time, we’ve seen two or three iterations of data.gov.uk and the release of data.gov.uk to go which would have allowed them to stop throwing good money after bad and just use a shared, proven, productised code base for the platform instead of reinventing the wheel as well as being able to lean on the experience and specialism of the data.gov.uk team.

In a sense though, this isn’t the problem. The data should come first. For Parliament, that should be Hansard (the transcript of debates), the TV feed and metadata, the annunciators (screens in the Palace that display what is going on in the chamber), voting data and better bills data.

What has been prioritised is the low hanging fruit of things like deposited papers - papers placed in the library by ministers as answers to questions. This is all well and good, but I would bet a month’s salary that that is not a key user task. Especially as google surfaces that information already. It isn’t ripe to be linked data in the same way as data on votes and proceedings.

To sum up:

  1. There hasn’t been any user research
  2. The tech isn’t standardised with the rest of government
  3. The datasets being released are ephemeral and likely not core user needs (but who knows [see point 1])

Fix it fix it fix it fix it

The discussion with Parliamentary ICT demonstrated a lack of understanding on their part of how the digital landscape has changed across the public sector in the last five years. As I said in my last post - if you’re wasting public money on bad projects, you are fair game. This project is very likely to be a waste of money. It may achieve goals, but I think from looking at the way that the project has run thus far, I would say that they are likely to be business goals rather than user needs, thus contravening the golden rule of putting users first.

I haven’t put in an FOI on the costs of the data.parliament programme, but I’m sure it would be interesting to see the comparison between that and data.gov.uk.

There are in my opinion, a number of (steps towards) solutions to all of this. Some are easy, some are hard.

Easy:

  • Write a blog about your progress on data.gov.uk. I’m sure Antonio would be keen to have you on board.
  • Pop the data online. Anywhere.
  • Do some fscking user research as to what your users want. Bake it into the process. At every stage. Make your devs sit in on it. Make everyone who goes to sprint planning sit in on it, watch the video and read the report.
  • Use the service design manual/stop pretending to be agile, and actually _*be*_ agile.
  • Put your code on github and work in public. See the github and government project for details.

Hard

  • Service transformation. Parliament is so unbelievably risk averse about their data. If the new beta services that we’ve seen at GDS’s Sprint14 the other week show us anything, it is that you can change important services without people dying. Parliament is not a special little snowflake. The challenges are close to identical. In this case, getting rid of technical debt in the systems that produce data and using nice open standards would make everyone’s lives better.
  • Getting data where it hasn’t been collected before. Commons divisions (votes) currently aren’t digital and have to be extracted from Hansard text. Things like this are procedural, will change ways that the House works, but are vital.

This isn’t hopeless though. This morning Iain Collins made a fantastic little site to get the ball rolling. There are a huge number of “critical friends” - people who want you to do well, but will be absolutely unforgiving of this level of bullshit. For PICT - you need to co-operate with the community. You need to stop building in secret. You need to stop imagining that the business/MPs are your customers and users. It is the general public that you serve. You need to stop wasting money otherwise you will end up having to explain your costs to the NAO.

Talk about this somewhere else - @blangry #parliamentAPI

[Photo - me - CC-BY-ND]

[EDIT] I didn’t even mention the amorphous “security concerns” that were cited as a reason for not allowing release of annunciator data. Unless I see a report from CESG saying it’s off limits, especially as anyone in the building, including non-security cleared visitors, can see the screen, I think that that is a shield to hide behind rather than a genuine design constraint.

UKGovCamp14

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It’s a difficult thing. I mean, we ask a lot of events these days. Protests have to carry a thousand goals from different protestors united together to try and address one small nexus of commonality on an issue.

Seeing this year’s response to GovCamp has put me in mind of this a little bit. I’m not going to pretend I had as good a time of it as last year, but there are loads of reasons for that.

  1. I’m not new anymore
  2. I’m actively involved in a company where we make things tangibly better rather than languishing in public service in an unsympathetic organisation
  3. I was quite hungover

I had also been involved in the organisation, which meant that as well as getting quite an involved sense of how the conference was shaped and the decisions we made about stuff (and why - no decision is made in a vacuum).

I think the problem is success. In a way. There wasn’t anywhere near enough fight in the room. We’ve got GDS, but those who used to be some of the fiercest critics of government digital are now either in government or in SMEs that rely on government work. This restricts what can be said in public and kind of means that there is a pool of incisive, thoughtful critique that cannot (politically speaking) be aired.

The thing is though, there are tonnes of things that really need doing. We need to make the NHS work properly online. It has massive problems right now, and there isn’t the same governance model as there is for central government. Double that for local, which almost had the discussion it needed but not quite.

I kept feeling like I was in a big showcase at the end of a sprint. We were identifying small problems, but they don’t feel killer any more. The need for strategic essentialism (all of us banding together and subsuming individual hobby horses into the herd) feels less and less vital.

So what next?

I think we shouldn’t have GovCamp next year. Open Tech don’t do a conference every year and they survive just fine in people’s wishes and imaginations. Maybe people will miss it if they realise what it brings.

Secondly, I think we need smaller, more targeted events (maybe barcamps, maybe not) to deal with the other problems. Gov is massive. It holds too much as a concept to lead to concise outcomes - especially without a defining problem to solve.

Leading on from that, the people who go to these things all the time have been the ones complaining hardest about it. Really, go and do one. It is an absolute ball ache organising a conference for 250 people, and I thoroughly and seriously advise you to go and do it for someone else. Pay the gift forward and enjoy everyone’s moans about how they would have done it differently. Choose your topic, take some money from the seed fund and do it. Stop throwing rocks from afar.

But most of all, we need to work out what all this is for. No sacred cows. No hero worship. No civil service grades, no client relationships and no local/central split. If you’re doing something expensive and shit online with public money, then you are fair game.

Things are still massively broken and the people in charge of those services aren’t in the room at GovCamp and they don’t get involved in the discussions we have elsewhere. Let’s break the echo chamber and go and talk to them. Let’s hold central gov to account when they screw up. Let’s make sure that we don’t let things drift again.

As I said to about 4 people through the day - “if you don’t like the way the conversation is going, then change it”. We don’t win points for silence and decorum. Let’s do that.

Things need to change. Tell me your ideas - twitter @blangry

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Photos all me, no license in particular.

Fragments of power: towards a psychosocial analysis of the archive

My MA Psychosocial Studies dissertation 2011

theannieplanet:

im laughing so hard

"Brandenburg Cucumberwubwub" will be the name of my firstborn. theannieplanet:

im laughing so hard

"Brandenburg Cucumberwubwub" will be the name of my firstborn. theannieplanet:

im laughing so hard

"Brandenburg Cucumberwubwub" will be the name of my firstborn. theannieplanet:

im laughing so hard

"Brandenburg Cucumberwubwub" will be the name of my firstborn.

theannieplanet:

im laughing so hard

"Brandenburg Cucumberwubwub" will be the name of my firstborn.

There is something about London on a hot day. At the best of times London feels like a Victorian invalid, either sneezing and coughing from some charming-sounding but ultimately fatal disease of whimsy or being wheeled around in a bath chair for the sake of nerves. But on a hot day, a couple of things happen. The first would be familiar to anyone who has had a manic episode. Everything feels stronger and more complicated, the sensation of the city around starts to bloom. The smell of the shisha cafés as you come close to Edgware Road, all apples and cinnamon and mint tea as it swims through your nose. Every butcher’s display seems technicolour and I salivate like a dog as I pass. My stomach audibly rumbles as I meander through a row of fishmongers, imagining the salmon roasted with cream sauce and mashed potato.

It’s hard to imagine anything better. But sometimes, just after the cloud has started to pull curtains across the indigo ceiling, you can begin to feel thunder coming. Too often in prose and poems, it’s a metaphor for some impending catastrophe rather than a feeling as though the city is going to sneeze. The city’s shoulders tighten as the haze from the sun gives way to an expectation. Jumpers that had previously been haphazardly slung around waists or in bags are brought out, first as warmers and then pre-emptive umbrellas. I smell it. It takes over from the smell of London. Like a migraine, it covers everything, filters it through a fog and turns the bus fumes into the amazon, the piss on the walls on the corner of the Strand into the sharp edge on a waterfall. A slight panic goes through the road as people feel the ferocity of the rain waiting for them, like autumn returning to pick up something it had left behind.

I remember going to Arizona as a kid. We were staying with friends of friends in Tuscon. I was terrified as my obsessions at the time centred around avoiding anything venomous, so my regular checks for snakes and scorpions became ritualistic, especially after a truck stop sign encouraging vigilance against wild rattlesnakes who might be angered by pissing humans. One night, after dinner of meat and potatoes fried in some combination, I sat on the verandah of our host’s home and watched the clouds roll in across the desert. The thunder echoed in ways that I’d never heard before, the ferocity and the piercing lightening like camera flashes from bulbs encircling your very being. But no rain. The desert stayed dry while the heavens screamed at the ground. Like an argument between a couple that has become so bitter that no tears can be shed any more.